Three Wonderful Dogs in Training

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“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside a dog it’s too dark to read.”

Groucho Marx

We have three wonderful dogs here at the farm, which from time to time you may have seen featured on our Instagram feed.  Oliver is a seven-year-old Mini-Australian Shepherd. Duke is our very vocal Beagle. Blizzard is named after the famous Dairy Queen Oreo dessert due to the giant splotches of black that appear on her incredible coat, all swirled into a 100+ pound body.  She most closely resembles a Landseer Newfoundland.

Oliver came from a breeder in Del Mar, California that frequented a horse show I used to attend.  Where you find horse people you generally find dog people too! He moved from Arizona with us in 2013.  Duke was a pup when he showed up on July 4th, a few months after we moved to the farm. He and two of his brothers had been ‘dumped’ at the farm entrance.   Our farm manager found Blizzard near a neighboring farm, malnourished and scared of her shadow. After no one claimed her she became part of our family and has blossomed into an amazing dog.  However, her ability to scale 6’ fences to scare away the frequent wildlife visitors that threaten her space might be one of her less attractive talents. After dispatching the trespasser she returns wagging her entire body, looking rather sheepish as she jumps back into the yard from the front porch.  She understands that she really isn’t supposed to leave the yard so jumping back in is her way of showing compliance.

Two short nights before Thanksgiving with a load of family about to descend upon us she scaled the fence and with lightning speed killed a skunk right before my eyes.  This gentle giant of a dog who has guarded baby goats when they have gotten separated from their mother, spent hours upon hours in the chicken yard without the slightest threatening move, shook this skunk to death while being sprayed directly in the face.  This is life on a farm folks!

Unfortunately, things have become a little unbalanced between the dogs and Oliver has decided that he is in charge. With my attention diverted to construction projects and way too much time away from home last year, I am afraid he saw an opportunity to take over.  After a trip to our veterinarian to make sure there wasn’t something medically-related contributing to his misbehavior, it became obvious that re-training of both dogs and humans was in serious need.

After soliciting advice from my vet and a very knowledgeable breeder in the area I was introduced to our dog trainer.  An imposing young woman who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and survived Marine boot camp has come to our aid.  She offered a couple of options. She could take Oliver to “board and train” at her house and after five to six weeks of retraining he would come back and her work would begin with us, or we could try to work her program while he stays here at the farm.  For now, I have opted to try and keep him at home while we learn together. During her orientation she stressed the difficulty with my chosen option but was willing to give it a try if I committed to following her rules. I am not sure about you, but I have a hard time arguing with a woman who trained bomb dogs for a living!

The first night was absolute hell, hands down full stop.  Oliver, who is whip-smart and used to sleeping on my bed was relegated to the crate.  What started out as whimpering soon moved to whole scale barking for three very long hours.  Finally, at 2:30 am when he drifted off to sleep I had to stop myself from calling her number and declaring “uncle.”  Reminding myself that she said it wouldn’t be easy, I decided to tough it out a little longer.

We are going back to basics which means Oliver isn’t making the decisions anymore.  We do a lot of short lessons throughout the day and he is working for his food. As you can imagine this has thrown the whole house into disarray.  The other two dogs can’t figure out what’s going on as their routine has been turned upside down. Duke is by far the most unsettled, which means that our dog trainer has some steady employment with us for a while.  He has serious separation anxiety when it comes to being away from Oliver, which may have a lot to do with the problems we are facing overall.

I am hoping that as we get through this phase of training things will calm down a little and our new normal will be rewarded with happy, obedient and emotionally balanced dogs. Until then, I am investing in a really good pair of earplugs.  

Wish me luck!

Camilla Strongin